Far East and Pacific Theaters

Dropping the Bomb

The Debate

A - J

Allen, Thomas B., and Norman Polmar. Code-Name DOWNFALL: The Secret Plan to Invade Japan -- and Why Truman Dropped the Bomb. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Bates, NIPQ 2.1: "While intelligence is not a major part of the book, MAGIC convinced Truman that Japanese military leaders were determined to fight to the last man, woman and child, or a negotiated peace." Auer and Halloran, Parameters (Spring 1996), call this "an uneven book with, nonetheless, some keen insights." However, the book "is marred by an evident lack of familiarity with Japan."

According to Giangreco, NWCR (Spring 1998), the authors "have produced a clear, concise work outlining the invasion planning in the context of the increasingly bloody fighting in the Pacific." They "effectively clarify many of the misconceptions that have grown up around U.S. decision making during the war's final days." Conaway, Air & Space Power Journal (2008), finds that this "is an excellently researched book that proves its thesis" that the United States was going to invade whether or not it used the bomb "well beyond a reasonable doubt."

Alperovitz, Gar.

1. Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam -- The Use of the Atomic Bomb and the American Confrontation with Soviet Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin, 1985. [pb] 2d expanded ed. UK: Pluto Press, 1994. [pb] New York: Vintage, 1996. [pb]

Clark comment: This work is a revision of the author's PhD thesis at Cambridge University. It has been and remains a highly controversial piece of revisionist history. The author argues that in 1945 Japan was already defeated and the United States did not have to use the atomic bomb in order to win the war. In Alperovitz' view, it did so in an attempt to intimidate the Soviet Union. For a highly critical review, see Robert James Maddox, "Atomic Diplomacy: A Study in Creative Writing," Journal of American History 59, no. 4 (1973): 925-934.

2. "The Big Lie: Why the West Really Bombed Japan." The Listener, 10 Aug. 1989.

3. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of the American Myth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Auer and Halloran, Parameters (Spring 1996), note that this is "a long and thoroughly documented work.... The author condemns the President for having acted illegally, self-servingly overestimating the number of American lives saved, and misrepresenting Hiroshima and Nagasaki as military targets."

For Giangreco, Parameters (Autumn 1999), this is simply a recapitulation of Atomic Diplomacy and "adds little new to the mix except redundancies, extraneous material, and a generous amount of smoke. The author's willingness to misrepresent or ignore documents that do not support his thesis is particularly troublesome."

Auer, James E., and Richard Halloran. "Looking Back at the Bomb." Parameters (Spring 1996), 127-135.

The authors survey a large amount of the recent literature on the U.S. decision and conclude that the United States "was justified" in dropping the atomic bomb. "President Truman was right.... [However,] like most human endeavors, it could have been handled better; the atomic bombing of Nagasaki so soon after Hiroshima is rightly open to question."

Baxter, James P., III. Scientists Against Time. Boston: Little, Brown, 1946. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1948. [pb]

Winner of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for History by the official historian of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) during World War II.

Bernstein, Barton J.

1. "A Postwar Myth: 500,000 U.S. Lives Saved." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jun.-Jul. 1986, 38-40.

2. "Roosevelt, Truman and the Atomic Bomb, 1941-1945: A Re-Interpretation." Political Science Quarterly (1985).

Chappell, John D. Before the Bomb: How America Approached the End of the Pacific War. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1997.

Giangreco, NWCR, Spring 1998, calls this a "fine work" that "fleshes out our knowledge of the environment in which all life-and-death decisions had to be made in 1945."

Drea, Edward J. "Previews of Hell: Intelligence, the Bomb, and the Invasion of Japan." American Intelligence Journal 16, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 1995): 51-57. Reprinted from Military History Quarterly 7, no. 3 (Spring 1995).

After the decision was made by President Truman on 18 June 1945 to proceed with the proposed invasion of Kyushu in November (Operation OLYMPIC), ULTRA intelligence indicated a rapidly increasing Japanese buildup on the island. The focused reinforcement of southern Kyushu -- where the planned landing sites were located -- was particularly ominous. When the use of the two atomic weapons did not produce an immediate Japanese surrender, General Marshall began to consider the use of the remaining bombs as tactical weapons against Kyushu's defenders. Such an action was made unnecessary by Japan's surrender on 10 August, but what if Japan's militarists had insisted on a fight to the bitter end?

Erikson, Kai. "Of Accidental Judgment and Casual Slaughters." The Nation, 3 Aug. 1985, 80-85.

Ferrell, Robert H., ed. Harry S. Truman and the Bomb: A Documentary History. Worland, WY: High Plains, 1996.

Giangreco, Parameters (Autumn 1999), notes that this collection of documents is a "useful, Internet-friendly compilation ... that, thanks to [the author's] extremely well-crafted headnotes and the brevity of the total package, will be of great value as a classroom tool."

Frank, Richard B. "Why Truman Dropped the Bomb." Weekly Standard, 8 Aug. 2005. []

"Revisionists" or "critics" (the author's preferred label) "divide over what prompted the decision to drop the bombs in spite of [what they argue was] the impending surrender [of Japan], with the most provocative arguments focusing on Washington's desire to intimidate the Kremlin.... [H]owever, a sheaf of new archival discoveries and publications has expanded our understanding of the events of August 1945....

"By far the most important single body of this new evidence consists of secret radio intelligence material, and what it highlights is the painful dilemma faced by Truman and his administration. In explaining their decisions to the public, they deliberately forfeited their best evidence" in accordance with "the stringent security restrictions guarding radio intercepts....

"The intercepts of Japanese Imperial Army and Navy messages disclosed without exception that Japan's armed forces were determined to fight a final Armageddon battle in the homeland against an Allied invasion.... Intercepts [also] demonstrated that the Japanese had correctly anticipated precisely where U.S. forces intended to land on Southern Kyushu in November 1945 (Operation Olympic).... [In addition, f]rom mid-July onwards, Ultra intercepts exposed a huge military buildup on Kyushu. Japanese ground forces exceeded prior estimates by a factor of four.... [The new] evidence also shows that the demise of Olympic came not because it was deemed unnecessary, but because it had become unthinkable."

Giangreco, Dennis M.

1. Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2009.

See D.M. Giangreco, "The Maximum 'Bloodletting and Delay,'" U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 135, no. 10 (Oct.2009): 64-69, for an excerpt from this book.

2. "To Bomb Or Not To Bomb." Naval War College Review, Spring 1998, 140-145. []

Giangreco reviews five books dealing with events surrounding the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japanese cities: Mattox, Weapons for Victory; Newman, Truman and the Hiroshima Cult; Chappell, Before the Bomb; Polmar and Allen, Code-Name Downfall; and Skates, The Invasion of Japan.

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